With a furious flurry of fingers and thumbs, Ryu unleashes his special move – a fireball of energy. In the other corner, Blanka stumbles, staggers and then collapses. Game over.
An electronic wave of cheering heralds Ryu’s victory. The gamer playing Street Fighter acknowledges the real-life applause and slaps on the back. Next to this, a couple focuses intently as Super Mario grabs magic jars while leaping over enemies.
It may sound like a scene straight from 1988, but this is modern-day Japan and we are at the Space Station bar. A tiny upstairs bar in downtown Osaka, it drips with nostalgia from the age of Spectrums, Ataris and Super Nintendos. The concept is brilliantly simple: buy beer, plug in, start playing.
Video game bars are nothing new, especially in game-crazy Japan. Osaka alone has more than 20, possibly the most in the world. What makes Space Station special is the love and attention that’s gone into it. It’s like walking back into a time when Donkey Kong was king.
Space Station is tucked away down one of the city’s narrow avenues; the first clue you’ve arrived is on the stairs – LED Space Invaders lead the way up to the bar.
By the entrance are the mother of all motherboards pinned to the wall. Beside them sits a whisky barrel converted into a table arcade cabinet where gamers can enjoy ROMs from the ‘golden age’ of arcade games (1981-1983, since you ask). The games here are represented by their actual motherboards on the wall.
This attention to detail is what makes Space Station so impressive. Other drool-worthy décor includes a Mobius strip depicting level 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers, homemade stickers of the 1991 game Lemmings, and framed first and last issues of Nintendo Power magazine.
Original game boxes line the bar’s perimeter, while the bar itself is shaped like the iconic Famicom ‘pulse’ logo (Famicom was Japan’s version of the Nintendo). Even the bathroom has decoupage tiles of video game screenshots.
This retro chic is all thanks to owner Matt Bloch, who’s originally from the US. When he opened the bar in 2011, the goal was simple: “The appeal of a video game bar is to get a hit of nostalgia and to talk about and play games with strangers you meet there or with friends.”
The sheer range of games, and the fact that you can play for free, also helps attract gamers. Matt explained: “Space Station itself is unique in its décor, its system of having no charge for the games, and for offering up the Western version of games and game consoles alongside their Japanese counterparts.”
Hundreds of games are available on a myriad of consoles. Take your pick from Playstations, Ataris, Super Nintendo, Dreamcast, Xbox 360s and Famicoms.
After buying a drink for 600 yen, you’re free to choose anything from Manic Miner or Lara Croft. On one side of the bar a younger crowd is playing on the newer consoles, but for us the real fun is to be found in the numerous cartridges stored by the bar. Staff are gaming gurus, with tips, advice and anecdotes. You want to compare Super Mario 2 with Mega Man 2? This is the place. You want to debate whether Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy was the ultimate Spectrum platform ame? No problem.
Listening to the 80s-electro sounds, watching the clunky 8-bit graphics and remembering how playable these games were is a real buzz. Space Station’s nostalgia rush works as it offers a throwback to a childhood time when video games ruled, coupled with an enthusiastic crowd.
Sure, the Xbox over in the corner is slicker and sharper, but nothing beats some Pacman and Pong.
Opening hours: 7pm-2am every night.
Address: Iwamura Building, 2F, 2-13-3 Nishi-Shinsaibashi Chuo-ku, Osaka